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June 6, 2011

String Topology Operations as a Sigma-Model

Posted by Urs Schreiber

The previous entry on ∞-Dijkgraaf-Witten theory has turned into a more general discussion of σ\sigma-model quantum field theories. I kept posting in the comment section supposedly bite-sized bits of a general exposition as it incrementally appears in the nnLab entry sigma-model .

The next installment I will instead post here, as a separate entry. See below the fold. This is about understanding Chas-Sullivan’s “string topology operations” as an example for a σ\sigma-model, as previously discussed. The main conceptual new ingredient is that for this we can no longer restrict attention to spaces of states that are nn-vector spaces over some field, but need fully fledged (,n)(\infty,n)-vector spaces over an \infty-ring (albeit n=1n = 1 will do for the present purpose).

So while the main thrust here is the σ\sigma-model story, the main content of the following is rather more generally a tiny little bit of exposition of the beautiful theory by Ando-Blumberg-Gepner-Hopkins-Rezk of discrete \infty-bundles of module spectra.

Chas and Sullivan famously noticed, that the homology groups of the free loop space LXL X of a compact oriented smooth manifold XX are equipped with an interesting paring operation

H (LX)H (LX)H dimX(LX) H_\bullet(L X) \otimes H_\bullet(L X) \to H_{\bullet - dim X}(L X)

that generalizes the Goldmann bracket on H 0(LX)Fπ 1(X)H_0(L X) \simeq F \pi_1(X). Since this operation is induced from concatenating loops, they called it the string product . Its study has come to be known as string topology , now a branch of differential topology.

It was soon realized that there indeed ought to be a relation to string physics: there ought to be a 2-dimensional quantum field theory associated with XX, as follows:

for Σ\Sigma a 2-dimensional surface with incoming and outgoing boundary components inΣinΣout outΣ\partial_{in} \Sigma \stackrel{in}{\to} \Sigma \stackrel{out}{\leftarrow} \partial_{out} \Sigma, the “space of states” of the theory ought to be given by the homology groups H (X inΣ)H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}) and H (X outΣ)H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{out} \Sigma}), and the path integral as a pull-push transform along Σ\Sigma ought to be given by push-forward and dual fiber integration

(X out) *(X in) !:H (X inΣ)H dimX(X outΣ) (X^{out})_* \circ (X^{in})^! : H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}) \to H_{\bullet- dim X}(X^{\partial_{out} \Sigma})

induced by the mapping space span

X Σ X in X out X inΣ X outΣ. \array{ && X^{\Sigma} \\ & {}^{\mathllap{X^{in}}}\swarrow && \searrow^{\mathrlap{X^{out}}} \\ X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma} &&&& X^{\partial_{out} \Sigma} } \,.

For ΣS 1S 1\Sigma \simeq S^1 \vee S^1 the 3-holed sphere with two incoming and one outgoing circle, this would describe an operation on string states induced by the merging of two closed strings to a single one

H (X S 1S 1)H (LX)×H (LX)H (LX) H_\bullet(X^{S^1 \coprod S^1}) \simeq H_\bullet(L X) \times H_\bullet(L X) \to H_\bullet(L X)

and this ought to be Chas-Sullivan string product operation.

That this is indeed the case was finally demonstrated by Veronique Godin. (See string topology for all references.) While the idea is rather simple, the concrete realization, especially when taking open strings into account, is fairly technical (see for instance this MO discussion).

But there should be more to it: one expects that these operations on homology groups are just a shadow of a refined construction on chain complexes (for instance singular chains): while Godin’s construction gives an HQFT – a quantum field theory that depends only on the homology of the moduli spaces of the relevant cobordisms – one expect that this is the homology of a genuine extended TQFT (which in this dimension is widely but somewhat unfortunately known under the term “TCFT”). Remarks on how that might be obtained have been made in print by Costello and Lurie.

In the context of our discussion of σ\sigma-models, we would want to refine this even one further step and ask: is the string-topology TCFT of a manifold (given that it exists) formally a σ\sigma-model with target space that manifold, and using some suitable background gauge field?

Given that the string topology TCFT itself has not been fully identified yet, we cannot expect a complete answer to this at the moment, but I will try to discuss a crucial ingredient that is available.

Notably we can first ignore the dynamics of the system, just consider the kinematics and ask the simple question: which quantum σ\sigma-models on XX have (∞,n)-vector spaces of states whose decategorification are graded homology groups H (X Σ)H_\bullet(X^{\partial \Sigma}) of mapping spaces of XX?

The answer to this question is more more transparent after we formulate the question in more generality: as observed by Cohen and Godin in their A Polarized View of String Topology , we may assume without restriction that the homology groups here are with respect to the generalized homology with coefficients in any commutative ∞-ring KK (as long as this is an “\infty-field” and as long as XX is KK-oriented):

H (X inΣ):=H (X inΣ,K). H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}) := H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{in}} \Sigma, K) \,.

Most every statement about ordinary commutative rings has its analog for commutative ∞-rings, and so we can just follow our nose:

An (∞,1)-vector space over KK is an KK-module spectrum and we have an (∞,1)-category KKMod of such \infty-vector spaces. Notice that these are a categorification of the ordinary notion of vector space only in the “rr“-direction of the lattice of (r,n)(r,n)-categories. A genuine (∞,n)-vector space over KK – as appears in the description of general nn-dimensional σ\sigma-models – is instead an object of (((KMod)Mod))Mod(\cdots ((K Mod) Mod) \cdots ) Mod . Here we should be fine with just (,1)(\infty,1)-vector spaces.

This means that an (∞,1)-vector bundle with flat ∞-connection over some manifold XX is equivalently encoded by an (∞,1)-functor

α:ΠXKMod \alpha : \Pi X \to K Mod

out of the fundamental ∞-groupoid of XX. This assigns to each point of XX a KK-module – the fiber of the (∞,1)-vector bundle thus encoded – to each path in XX an equivalence between the fibers over its endpoints, and so on: this is the higher parallel transport of a flat \infty-connection. We can also think of this as an ∞-representation of ΠX\Pi X on KK-modules, also called a representation up to homotopy . For instance if XX is the classifying space X=BGX = B G of a discrete ∞-group, then flat (∞,1)-vector bundles on XX are precisely ∞-representations of GG.

There is an evident full sub-(∞,1)-category

KLineKMod K Line \hookrightarrow K Mod

of 1-dimensional (,1)(\infty,1)-vector spaces: KK-lines – KK-modules that are equivalent to KK itself regarded as a KK-module.

An (,1)(\infty,1)-vector bundle :Π(X)KMod\nabla : \Pi(X) \to K Mod that factors through this inclusion is a KK-line \infty-bundle .

One finds, as for the case of ordinary 1-vector spaces, that

KLineBGL 1(K)BAut(K) K Line \simeq B GL_1(K) \simeq B Aut(K)

is the delooping of the automorphism ∞-group of KK. This means that KK-line \infty-bundles are equivalently GL 1(K)GL_1(K)-principal ∞-bundles. We can think of the inclusion

ρ:BGL 1(K)KLineKMod \rho : B GL_1(K) \stackrel{\simeq}{\to} K Line \hookrightarrow K Mod

as being the canonical linear ∞-representation of GL 1(K)GL_1(K); and for g:ΠXBGL 1(K)g : \Pi X \to B GL_1(K) a GL 1(K)GL_1(K)-principal ∞-bundle of the (,1)(\infty,1)-vector bundle

ΠXgBGL 1(K)ρKMod \Pi X \stackrel{g}{\to} B GL_1(K) \stackrel{\rho}{\to} K Mod

as the corresponding associated ∞-bundle.

Therefore it makes sense to consider σ\sigma-models with target space XX and background gauge field given by a KK-line \infty-bundle.

For instance for K=KUK = K U the K-theory spectrum, there is a canonical morphism B 2U(1)BGL 1(KU)B^2 U(1) \to B GL_1(KU) and hence to every circle 2-bundle α:ΠXB 2U(1)\alpha : \Pi X \to B^2 U(1) is associated the corresponding KUK U-line \infty-bundle

ΠXαB 2U(1)BGL 1(KU)ρKUMod. \Pi X \stackrel{\alpha}{\to} B^2 U(1) \stackrel{}{\to} B GL_1(K U) \stackrel{\rho}{\to} K U Mod \,.

Or for K=tmfK = tmf the tmf spectrum, there is a canonical morphism B 3U(1)BGL 1(tmf)B^3 U(1) \to B GL_1(tmf) and hence to every circle 3-bundle α:ΠXB 3U(1)\alpha : \Pi X \to B^3 U(1) is associated the corresponding tmftmf-line \infty-bundle

ΠXαB 3U(1)BGL 1(tmf)ρtmfMod. \Pi X \stackrel{\alpha}{\to} B^3 U(1) \stackrel{}{\to} B GL_1(tmf) \stackrel{\rho}{\to} tmf Mod \,.

This was amplified by Ando, Blumberg, Gepner, Hopkins, and Rezk (see the references here), who notice much of the theory of KK-(co)homology – including notably its Thom spectrum theory and its twisted cohomology – is neatly captured by simple statements about such AA-line (,1)(\infty,1)-bundles. For instance the notion of orientation in generalized cohomology simply boils down to the notion of trivialization of such KK-line \infty-bundles:

a vector bundle EXE \to X is KK-oriented precisely if the corresponding Thom space-bundle – which is a sphere spectrum-line \infty-bundle V:Π(X)SLineV: \Pi(X) \to S Line is such that the canonically associated KK-line bundle is trivializable:

(VisKorientable)((Π(X)VSLineKLine)const K). (V is K-orientable) \Leftrightarrow ( (\Pi(X) \stackrel{V}{\to} S Line \to K Line) \simeq const_K ) \,.

For our discussion here this means that Cohen-Godin’s finding that the string topology HQFT exists for KK such that XX is KK-orientable meaks that the KK-line \infty-bundle background field that we are to consider in this context are to be trivializable.

Recall that if we interpret such an KK-line bundle as a background gauge field for a σ\sigma-model, then for Σ\Sigma any cobordism the corresponding (∞,1)-vector space of states assigned to, say, the incoming boundary inΣ\partial_{in} \Sigma is defined to be the \infty-vector space of sections of the transgression of this \infty-vector bundle to the mapping space. The transgression of a trivial bundle is again the trivial bundle. And the \infty-vector space of (co)sections is, in the discrete case, as we had discussed before, the (∞,1)-colimit

Γ inΣ:=lim (ΠX inΣSLineKMod). \Gamma_{\partial_{in} \Sigma} := \lim_\to(\Pi X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma} \to S Line \to K Mod ) \,.

This one can compute. By triviality of the bundle, Ando-Blumberg-Gepner-Hopkins-Rezk observe that this is the KK-homology spectrum of X inΣX^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}

(Σ X inΣ)KKMod. \cdots \simeq (\Sigma^\infty X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}) \wedge K \in K Mod \,.

(Here the main point is that for the bundle not being trivial the result encodes the corresponding twisted cohomology , but for our purposes at the moment we want the oriented/trivializable case.)

This is hence the \infty-vector space of states over inΣ\partial_{in} \Sigma assigned by a σ\sigma-model with background gauge field a KK-line \infty-bundle over a KK-oriented target space.

Its decategorification is precisely the tower of homology groups of XX:

π (Γ Σ)=H (X inΣ,K). \pi_\bullet(\Gamma_{\partial \Sigma}) = H_\bullet(X^{\partial_{in} \Sigma}, K) \,.

Which is the decategorified space of states that we set out to find in a σ\sigma-model.

So it looks like there ought to be a chance that we understand “string topology TCFT” as a sigma-model induced from a trivial (,1)(\infty,1)-vector bundle background gauge field.

Posted at June 6, 2011 11:15 AM UTC

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9 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

Intriguing! But remember there is much, much more
to string topology that that one operation. Also don’t overlook the inspiration from physics, especially Zwiebah and the Master Eqn, for string topology initially.

Posted by: jim stasheff on June 6, 2011 1:04 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model


Glad you like it.

But remember there is much, much more to string topology than that one operation.

You mean the string product? Sure, maybe I should have emphasized this more: after realizing the string product as that particular operation that the HQFT assigns to the pair-of-pants S 1S 1S^1 \vee S^1, it is thereby accompanied by all the other operations of that HQFT, for all the other cobordisms and parameterized over the full moduli space thus giving “higher string operatins”. Maybe I’ll talk about this more in a followup entry when I actually get to the dynamics. Here I concentrated on discussing the kinematics.

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 6, 2011 1:18 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

Apologies to ZwiebaCh

It may be hiding in your exposition but notice that the early work on string topology was at the homology level because the operations were constructed using transversality of appropriate representative chains.
Recently, cf. Scott Wilson, it was shown as expected that there is a full chain level structure but the operations are of the infty-sort, e.g. the bracket is

Posted by: jim stasheff on June 6, 2011 1:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

Recently, cf. Scott Wilson, it was shown as expected that there is a full chain level structure

Could you point me to a reference for this? I’d be very interested.

The next best thing that I am currently aware of is

Andrew J. Blumberg, Ralph L. Cohen, Constantin Teleman, Open-closed field theories, string topology, and Hochschild homology (arXiv:0906.5198)

which provides “evidence” for the existence of the chain level refinement of the theory – by exhibiting a dg-category that looks like it ought to be the dg-category of “string-topology-branes”, hence which should correspond to the the string topology TCFT under the relevant version of the cobordism hypothesis.

Apart from this I am not aware of any detailed arguments (I am aware of some other very rough arguments).

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 6, 2011 1:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

Recently, cf. Scott Wilson, it was shown as expected that there is a full chain level structure

Could you point me to a reference for this?

Ah, I guess you mean his 2005 PhD thesis, which on pp. 101 mentions the refienement of the string product and the BV-operator to chain level?

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 6, 2011 1:41 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

Will check with Scott to see if there is a summary version

You wrote:
And in fact this identification respects the A ∞-algebra structure on both sides.

So turn about: do you have a reference for that?
and which A_\infty structure are you referencing?

Posted by: jim stasheff on June 7, 2011 1:00 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

I had written:

And in fact this identification respects the A A_\infty-algebra structure on both sides.

Jim asked:

So turn about: do you have a reference for that?

I had been thinking of the equivalence (as discussed here) between HH \mathbb{Z}-module spectra and algebra spectra with chain complexes and dg-rings, respectively.

When I wrote the above it seemed clear to me that under this equivalence (Σ ΩX)H(\Sigma^\infty \Omega X) \wedge H \mathbb{Z} is mapped to the standard singular chain complex C (ΩX,)C_\bullet(\Omega X, \mathbb{Z}). But now I realize that I am a bit shaky on how to really show this. Sorry!

I have asked for help on MO now.

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 7, 2011 6:31 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

I was asked by email whether my discussion above is actually at the homology level or the finer chain level. Indeed, it is as the finer chain level, but I realize that this may have been hidden a bit in my use of module spectra.

So for emphasis of this point I have now added the following additional remark (in the nnLab entry, there equipped with all relevant pointers and references):

Notice that for K=HK = H \mathbb{Z} the Eilenberg-MacLane spectrum for the integers, we have an equivalence

HModCh H \mathbb{Z} Mod \simeq Ch_\bullet

between the (,1)(\infty,1)-category of HH \mathbb{Z}-algebra modules and the (,1)(\infty,1)-category presented by the model structure on chain complexes. Under this equivalence the above module spectrum-space of states over the circle is identified with the ordinary integral homology chain complex

(Σ LX)KC (LX). (\Sigma^\infty L X) \wedge K \sim C_\bullet(L X) \,.

And in fact this identification respects the A A_\infty-algebra structure on both sides.

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 6, 2011 5:26 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: String Topology Operations As A Sigma-Model

I had one counting wrong in the entry above. This is now corrected in the nLab version:

Since we are talking about a 2-dimensional σ\sigma-model, the background field must be an (,2)(\infty,2)-vector bundle ΠX(KMod)Mod\Pi X \to (K Mod) Mod. Only its transgression to loop spaces LXL X or more generally to X ΣX^{\partial \Sigma} is the (,1)(\infty,1)-vector bundle Π(X Σ)KMod\Pi (X^{\partial \Sigma}) \to K Mod of which I pointed out the space of sections is the expected module spectrum.

(See (∞,n)-vector space) for this iterative notion.)

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on June 8, 2011 11:15 AM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post AKSZ Sigma-Models
Weblog: The n-Category Café
Excerpt: The original definition of AKSZ sigma-model quantum field theories.
Tracked: August 5, 2011 1:17 AM

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